Faith Works 6-1-13
One foot in front of the other, one eye on the sky
Some call it Cowboy TV.
Others call it The Nature Channel.
You look up, or from the right vantage point, you look out, and see a widescreen, 3D, high definition vista.
The high def is less so if you have big droplets of sweat on the inside of your glasses, but it's the work of a moment to wipe them off, mop your brow, and gaze.
The sky is filled with the slow motion boil of cumulus, glowing white on top, hints of glowering purple below on some clouds.
As yet, there's no front, no wall cloud, no solid shadow of approaching rainfall. With the right gear, in the right location – even if that's not under a wide, overhanging roof – you can enjoy that sight on its own terms.
But more pleasurable is this collection of ever changing monuments to evaporation, condensation, and potential precipitation. There are fair weather cumulus, no greys or dark blues showing the clouds as heavy with water, but all cotton ball puffs as a child would glue to their tempera-painted sky.
And then there's cerulean itself, a cloudless sky. Usually even a "cloudless" sky has one or two somewhere in the distance, down by the horizon, just for contrast. Not always: sometimes you get, with crisp air of a clear morning, what the pilots call CAVU: ceiling and visibility unlimited. You still have something to look at, though; a pure blue sky has a contrast all its own, and compels your eye to search deeply into the color.
Ohio in the summer is more given to a milky blue, when humidity promises both clouds to come and the weight of dampness across your back heavier than the pack you're carrying.
That kind of not-quite blue always ripples from stratus to cirrus mixed with cumulonimbus, when humidity takes on both solid form and generates the slashes of lighting that bind heaven to earth.
Storms pass, as they always do, and then the calm, the recovery of nature's concert as you walk from bugs to birds to occasional amphibians and animals in the underbrush.
Then night falls; you have your camp set up, your fire banked or maybe you never lit more than your stove, and with its roaring off, you just watch the stars come out.
If you get out into the townships, or further afield, you see the night sky as startlingly active. Yes, some of that will be the lights of high flying jet planes, flashing their steady blink across the sky from horizon to horizon, but there are higher, faster, steady points of light that move with stately grace from north to south. Satellites, you learn with a good long viewing of a clear night sky, are not all that uncommon.
Once in a while, if you're fortunate, a brighter glob of light will angle across from western horizon to your east, more diagonal to your view than most of the aircraft. It's the International Space Station, humanity's outpost beyond the atmosphere, with a few intrepid souls (Americans, Russians, Canadians, sometimes others) looking back down on our planet during their work breaks.
We look up, watching the sky, now brightly washed through the middle, from northeast to southwest, with a path of milky illumination, the ISS flying perpendicularly to that starry band.
And beyond? How can you not think of beyond? Even the brilliant sunlight filled blue draws your thoughts past the mere accident of color to what lies behind, above, beyond. But moreso now, by night, the moon not yet up, the stars glittering in their field of intense black.
Tillich spoke of God as "the ground of being," and there's a life to the blackness of space, a vibrancy to it that does not force you to think only of vacuum, of the void. You feel a presence.
What kind of presence? That's what we discuss in churches, in our worship centers and home study groups. In one form or another, we all stand against the spirit of the age to say we believe in a meaning beyond our moment, a person bigger than personality. We start with that truth claim, that there is more than material substance to this cosmos in which we hike, swim, fly, and then we reach out a little bit further, to ask "Who are you?" What kind of presence: one of love, or of indifference? Of care, or of oblivion?
To which Christians whisper, as they look on the night sky: "Jesus."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; you're likely to see him dishing out shortcake at the Newark Kiwanis Strawberry Festival this weekend. Tell him what you see in the sky at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Knapsack on Twitter.